I’m not much of a reviewer of books, movies, TV shows, or other current things, but I feel impelled to spend a few words in this post about the latest book by Homer Hickam, best known for his classic Rocket Boys (October Sky). This latest work is titled Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator. It’s published by Harper Collins.
The story is about his parents—Homer and Elsie—living life in Coalwood, West Virginia, that setting we got to know well in Rocket Boys. But young Elsie is not all that thrilled with her situation there, and longs for the joyous, carefree days she’d spent after high school with Uncle Aubrey in Orlando, Florida, and her relationship with Buddy Ebsen, he of future acting fame.
But once the future Jed Clampett and Davy Crockett sidekick took off for New York, Elsie made her way back to the dreariness of Coalwood and settled in as Homer’s wife, never quite giving up on her “what-might-have-been” line of thinking, especially when a wedding gift of a baby alligator arrives from dear, old Buddy!
As one could imagine, the unusual pet could provide many a strained moment in their relationship, and Homer told Elsie that she would have to choose between him or the alligator. Put on the spot, Elsie figured that it would be best to “carry” her beloved pet—her gift from Buddy—back home to Florida. And so begins the epic journey that is full of strange twists and characters.
John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway figure in the journey, as does a rooster, whose purpose is not really understood. There are run-ins with bootleggers, bank robbers, and others trying to survive the throes of the Great Depression.
Through it all, there is heartbreak and sadness, but there are also wonderful spots in the tale that make us laugh, typical of Homer Hickam’s novels. All of this, woven in and around a moving tale, allows the reader to come away with a better understanding of life “back in the day.” And there is a sense that young Homer gained an even greater insight into his parents’ relationship which he wrote about earlier in his other Coalwood books.
Homer and Elsie make their journey and reconcile many things along the way and afterwards as they shared over sixty years of married life together. One cannot help but wonder how much of this family legend is true. The author himself summed it up very nicely the other night, when I had the opportunity to attend his book signing: “Everything is true, except for the parts that aren’t, and even they’re true!”
I like Homer Hickam, and I like his writing. Order Carrying Albert Home and enjoy a wonderful story and see for yourself why it’s receiving excellent reviews and winning literary awards. And, perhaps, you’ll be able to figure out why the rooster is on the journey!